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Amazon automates Mechanical Turk outsourcing service

Company hopes new tools will make it easier to offer large numbers of tasks on Mechanical Turk, an Internet service that links jobs with people who can do them.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

Amazon has added a Web-based tool to help automate use of its Mechanical Turk program, a marketplace that seeks to unite people across the world with companies that need help with tasks that humans accomplish.

The Mechanical Turk site now has an interface the company says makes it easier to manage large numbers of outsourced jobs.
The Mechanical Turk site now has an interface the company says makes it easier to manage large numbers of outsourced tasks. (Click to enlarge.) Amazon.com

The new interface makes it possible for those offering work to manage many tasks. "The new Web-based interface guides business users through the process of designing Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs), publishing up to hundreds of thousands of HITs simultaneously, monitoring worker activity, and retrieving work results," Amazon said Wednesday.

Previously, such automation was possible through use of an API (application programming interface), but that required programming expertise. "With these new Web-based tools, any business, in just a few minutes, can submit work that requires human intelligence to a workforce of hundreds of thousands workers from over one hundred countries," boasted Sharon Chiarella, vice president of Amazon Mechanical Turk, in a statement.

Amazon also began offering templates to ease the creation of tasks.

Mechanical Turk fits into the general idea of on-demand business, in which companies pay for services or technology as they need it. Theoretically at least, that approach lets them rapidly expand or contract operations in response to changing demand and not pay for resources that aren't needed during peak moments. On the more technological side of the equation, Amazon also offers Amazon Web Services, computing technology available over the network that companies can use to expand or contract storage, processing, database activities, and other tasks through a pay-as-you-go structure.

One Mechanical Turk user is Mobicious, which relies on the service to find labor for the process of tagging and moderating photos on its SnapMyLife site. Another is TagCow.com, which also uses Mechanical Turk for tagging images with descriptive labels. "The new tools introduced for Mechanical Turk will help us respond more quickly and efficiently when the images coming into our service spikes," said CEO Michael Droz. "Virtually anyone in our company can now load thousands of images that need tagging into Mechanical Turk and retrieve the results."

To use Mechanical Turk, people must pay or be paid with Amazon Payments, a system that keeps track of debits and credits. Amazon also unveiled other payment services on Tuesday, Checkout by Amazon and Amazon Simple Pay.